Client Relationships Are a Year-Round Commitment

By Michelle Davidson, Editor

Make sure you show your clients you appreciate themMake sure you show your clients you appreciate them

When the holidays come around, suddenly we're filled with the giving spirit. Every organization organizes a food or gift drive, and many of us willingly donate. I'm not knocking those drives; they address a very real need. But that need doesn't end when the holidays end. Struggling families need care and attention throughout the year.

The same can be said about your client relationships. Your clients need attention and care the entire time they're your client. You can't go from regular phone calls and emails to nothing after they sign on the dotted line. Even after you complete the job, you need to maintain the relationship.

Developing meaningful client relationships-the type that creates loyal, trusting clients who not only offer return business but also refer you to others-starts with your lead generation efforts. Prospects need a human touch, says Dan McDade in his podcast interview Lead Generation: Prospects Need a Human Touch.

"There are so many companies now, and rightfully so, looking at marketing automation solutions and other tools. Those are all great, but remember nothing really happens until somebody has a conversation with somebody else," he says.{C}

That human element can also prevent firms from losing the many long-term opportunities that get "left on the floor" because the prospect isn't ready to buy. You need a process that moves them closer to the sale, McDade says.

Joseph Riden agrees that being sensitive to a prospect's financial position will help you win the sale, as well as their long-term business.

"Attempting a close during a company's cash-critical period can lead to frustration all around and may dissolve trust in a relationship that was carefully built and would otherwise eventually bear fruit," he says in his article Sensitivity to Clients' Financial Position Helps Win More Sales.

These days you need to have a sense of a client's financial position. When you know if they're in a position to spend, you can better determine if you should move toward the close or if more nurturing is needed until they are able to spend.

"Intelligence about clients' financial condition, and especially about their cash solvency, can be a key to conserving sales effort and directing it well. It also helps to retain nurtured clients and time your closing actions for a greater chance of winning sales," Riden says.

Clients' Experience Critical

In a world where more companies are competing for buyers' dollars, the experience you provide to clients can set you apart and help you earn their loyalty.

If they believe in your service and enjoy the buying experience, they will keep coming back for more, says Michael W. McLaughlin.

First is the value you provide when you successfully deliver on the promised outcome. Second is creating value-and good experiences-in all interactions with clients, he says.

"I'm referring to non-project sources of value, such as what your clients learn, how they change as a result of your work, the new capabilities they develop, and how they feel about working with you," writes McLaughlin in his article What It Takes to Keep Clients Coming Back for More. "Focus on boosting that aspect of value, and you will set yourself apart from others, who typically consider the client's experience only as an afterthought."

Empathy can also go a long way toward developing strong client relationships, says Anne Scarlett in her article How to Use Empathy to Develop Meaningful Client Relationships. Economic challenges and individual business hurdles can overwhelm your clients. Your empathy in those situations can go a long way, she says.

"Your empathy can have a meaningful impact on others, not only on their ability to manage the situation, but on their business relationship with you. It can help lay the foundation for a long-lasting client relationship," Scarlett says.

Make Client Appreciation a Part of Life

Think about how you feel when a company you buy from offers a token of appreciation. JetBlue recently offered TrueBlue credit card owners a free alcoholic beverage on flights in December. Starbucks gives registered buyers a free beverage of any kind on their birthday. Godiva gives registered buyers a free piece of chocolate once a month. Those little things go a long way toward developing loyalty.

Reston Limousine discovered the same thing. After years of thriving without having to do much marketing, the company started to struggle as the bad economy forced buyers to cut expenses. To keep the business going, CEO Kristina Bouweiri turned to her clients. She wanted to thank current and past clients for their business, get to know them better, and ask them for referrals. That's when she came up with the idea to hold a series of Client Appreciation Lunches, writes Mary Flaherty in her case study A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way: CEO's Masterful Use of Client Relationship Marketing Grows Revenue by 27%.

Bouweiri enlisted the help of companies in her network who would also want to get in front of these clients, and they created exclusive monthly lunches for the people responsible for ordering transportation services but who often weren't invited to these types of lunches. Attendees receive a free meal at a high-end restaurant, listen to mini-presentations by the sponsors, and leave with a gift bag of items provided by the sponsors.

"Every month for the last two years, I've hosted this lunch," Bouweiri says, "and in the last two years I've met 900 clients. I've created a dialog with them. I've given [them] access to me personally as the CEO."

Bouweiri learned that price isn't the deciding factor. Her clients are overworked and underpaid, and they want more than anything reliable service, she says. When you combine that with a little appreciation, you not only gain their loyalty but you get advocates who spread the word about you.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Michelle Davidson is Editor of RainToday. As such, she oversees all of the articles published on the website and publishes the weekly newsletter, the Rainmaker Report. She also produces the site's weekly podcast series, RainToday's Sales Tips & Techniques Podcast, and the site's webinars. You may contact her via email at mdavidson@raintoday.com and via Twitter at @michedav.

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